PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in January 2004, contributed by then Contribting Editor Gary Simmons. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
‘The Ball from Blue Microphones is Blue’s first entry into the dynamic market after a successful string of highly regarded condenser mics. I was approached about reviewing the Ball at summer NAMM and took Blue up on the offer. I’m always up for test-driving new gear. The Ball arrived a few weeks later, along with a “Blueberry” mic cable (optional).
The Ball is quite a unique microphone. For starters, it’s a big blue ball, about the size of a softball. The Ball certainly continues Blue’s tradition of making colorful, visually striking mics with interesting names, not model numbers. The Ball comes packaged in a cardboard box with Styrofoam packing. You also get a manual/application guide that perhaps tries a little too hard to be funny. At least it’s a light read. Retail price is $279. Street price is about $200.
There’s more to the Ball than just a pretty face. The Ball is the world’s first phantom-powered dynamic microphone. The circuitry in the Ball provides a constant pure-resistive 50-ohm output load to your mic preamp whereas the output impedance of a regular dynamic mic varies with frequency. Blue claims that “frequency dependent variable resistance has dramatic effects on the transducer’s acoustic balance, phase coherence, noise specification and overall output” and that the Ball yields “exceptionally smooth and open sound previously unheard of in a dynamic microphone”. I’m not an electrical engineer and don’t claim to know a whole lot about the gory details of microphone design, so I rely on the test instruments on either side of my head to tell me what works.
I should quickly describe my philosophy about mics and how I use and evaluate them. All mics have a sonic personality or color. The trick, in my opinion, is to select a mic that has a sonic personality that flatters a given sound source. This means little or no EQ is required to “fix it in the mix”. Use a bright mic to liven up a somewhat dull source. Use a “warm” mic to fatten up a thin source. Size, pickup pattern and SPL handling also come into play. As a painter will have a selection of brushes, it is advantageous to have a well-stocked mic cabinet so that you have more colors to paint with.
Which brings us to the Ball.
According to Blue, the Ball was designed to have its bass boost (due to proximity effect) at a different point (about 125Hz) than most dynamic mics. This would indicate the Ball to be a good choice on sources that you would normally find yourself boosting EQ in the 100-200Hz region for a bit of body. Adjust distance to the source to tweak the amount of proximity effect and adjust position (on/off axis) to tweak the high end and you should be good to go. Of course, personal preferences and previous experience factor in a great deal as well.
My plan was to record the same performance on a variety of sources using the Ball and other, well-known dynamic mics. I hooked both mics up to my Earthworks LAB102 mic preamp (a neutral sounding mic pre), fed the Earthworks output to my Swissonic A/D converters and recorded straight to hard disk (24-bit, 44.1K). By recording the same performance to separate tracks, I would be able to compare the tonal differences purely on sonics and not be swayed by differences between takes.
I wasn’t trying to necessarily decide which mic was “better”, but rather gain perspective on how the Ball compares sound-wise to well-known, classic dynamics. I’ll let you decide on the “better” part as that is a function of the specific source and the sound you want to end up with. What works for me on a particular instrument won’t necessarily work for you, but at least I can give you some perspective on how the Ball sounds compared to some well-know mics.
I used the Ball on clean and crunchy guitar amps, bass amps, kick drum, and even tried it on female vocals and acoustic guitar just to see what its top end was like. The other mics used in the comparisons were the ubiquitous Shure SM57, the classic Sennheiser 421 and the Sennheiser 441. The short answer is that the Ball sounded like a good quality dynamic on everything I tried it on. Relatively speaking, the 57 had more snap in the upper mids and the 421 had deeper bass.
The Ball sounded quite similar to my 441 on my guitar amp, which is where it spent most of its time. I preferred the deeper thump of the 421 on kick drum, but suspect the Ball would sound very nice on toms or a smaller kick. The Ball worked fine on bass amp for a live blues recording I did, but I preferred the deeper sound of the 421 on a rock track (with a different amp). Of course the Ball didn’t have the detail and “air” that a condenser mic would have on vocals and acoustic guitar – no dynamic does – but it did a respectable job for a dynamic mic.
A few notes on odds and ends. The Ball is a large mic, so it’s not going to fit in tight places. The mic stand screws directly into the mic, which allows for some range of adjustment in one axis (similar to a mic clip). A small red LED on the front of the mic indicates the phantom power is present. Output level seems typical (within a couple dB) of the other mics I used.
The bottom line for me is that I found the Ball to be a versatile, well-made, affordable dynamic mic. The Ball has a different sonic personality than a 57 or a 421. I tried it on most things that I would normally use a dynamic mic on. While it never blew me away on any given source, the Ball always did a fine job of capturing the source and seems to have found a home in front of my guitar amp. I preferred the 421 on bass amp and kick, but I prefer a deep thump that may or may not be what you’re after.
I think it’s an exceptionally cool looking mic and got positive comments from all manner of people (musicians and general public) every time I brought it out. If you’re attracted to the looks and have phantom power on your mixer, take one for a test drive to see if the Ball’s sonic signature is what you’re after. I’m a sucker for mics with personality and now my mic cabinet has another color to paint with… Blue.